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Fill your Easter baskets with springtime cheer

April 19, 2019
If you’re planning an Easter celebration, our local shops are stocked with supplies. From supermarkets to drugstores, the shelves are filled with chocolates, jelly beans and marshmallow peeps. You can find shredded plastic grass and woven baskets, stuffed bunnies and potted lilies - everything you’ll need to decorate for the holiday.
 
Once you have your decor and Easter basket treats, you can shop for a traditional Easter dinner. To begin, lamb and ham are the two most frequently chosen meats. Lamb because of its Christian symbolism and ham because it was ready to eat after a long winter’s salt cure and smoking. Side dishes could include early spring vegetables like new potatoes, peas and asparagus.
 
But, the star of Easter traditions is the egg, featured in decoration, entertainment and on the menu. As a result of the egg’s literal and symbolic association with fertility and rebirth, Easter is closely connected to bunnies and eggs. You’ll find the schedule for egg rolls, egg hunts, and in the cities of Bessieres and Haux, France, the preparation of a giant egg omelet large enough to feed hundreds of townspeople.
 
While there are dozens of explanations and alternate histories about hard-boiled eggs and Easter, the simplest reason might be the Christian tradition of Lent. For 40 days before Easter Sunday, eating certain foods was prohibited. The day before the start of Lent, Fat Tuesday (or Pancake Day) was when all the eggs and dairy food in the household were consumed.
 
During the weeks that followed, the family’s hens didn’t stop laying eggs, so by Easter there would be a large supply, and many of the eggs would be hard-boiled to preserve them for a future meal. On Easter Sunday and the week that follows, those eggs will need to be consumed. How many different ways can you use hard-boiled eggs?
 
The Spanish solution is a traditional bread called hornazo de salamnca served on the day after Easter. A tender white bread dough is filled with sliced hard-boiled eggs and chorizo sausage sautéed in bacon fat. The rectangular loaf is decorated with a latticework design and baked until golden. To serve, the large loaf is cut into squares, revealing the rich stuffing.
 
In Hungary, a potato and hard-boiled egg casserole called “rakott krumpli” is another dish that will offer a good place for those eggs. Layers of parboiled sliced potatoes and sliced hard-boiled eggs are combined with a buttery sour cream sauce, topped with breadcrumbs and baked into a creamy side dish.
 
Another familiar use for hard-boiled eggs is a stuffed meatloaf. Simply mix your usual seasonings with ground meat, form half the meat into a rectangle and set three (peeled) hard-boiled eggs down the middle. Top with the remaining meat and close the edges around the eggs. Bake as you usually cook your meatloaf and slice to reveal the eggs.
 
My favorite use of hard-boiled eggs is to transform them into deviled eggs, including the “chicks” in the photo. Standard flavorings include spicy Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish or fresh dill. The April issue of Bon Appetit offered an even simpler approach: simply halve the almost-hard-boiled eggs, and arrange them on a platter surrounded with an array of salty, crunchy toppings. I’ve included recipes for the chicks and the delicious Hungarian casserole. Happy Easter!
 
Hard-Boiled Chicks
12 eggs
1 t salt
1/2 C mayonnaise
2 t Dijon mustard
1/8 t onion power
salt, to taste
1 peeled carrot
24 peppercorns
 
Place eggs in a large saucepan and fill with water to cover. Add 1 t salt and bring to a boil over medium high. When water reaches a simmer, reduce heat slightly, and cook until yolks are firm, about 10 minutes. Remove eggs to a colander and rinse under cold water. Place eggs in the refrigerator until cool enough to handle. Peel eggs and slice a thin layer off the bottom to allow them to stand on a plate. Cut off the top third of the egg and gently remove yolk to a mixing bowl; keep tops and bottoms together. Mash the yolks with a fork until crumbled completely. Add mayonnaise, mustard, onion power and salt; stir until smooth. Slice the carrot into thin rounds and cut each round into six wedges. Transfer the yolk mixture to a zip-top bag and snip off a corner. Pipe filling into the bottom half of each egg, mounding about an inch above the edge. Set the top on the filling at a slight angle. Place two peppercorns as “eyes” and one or two carrot wedges to form a “beak.”
 
Egg Potato Bake
6 hard-boiled eggs
6 russet potatoes
1/2 t salt
1/2 t paprika, divided
1 C sour cream
1/4 t white pepper
1/2 C melted butter
1/3 C bread crumbs
 
Coat the inside of a 2-quart casserole with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Place potatoes and salt in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander, then return them to the pan over very low heat, shaking the pan until potatoes are completely dry. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Peel potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Peel hard-boiled eggs and cut into 1/4-inch slices. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together sour cream, white pepper and all but 2 T of the melted butter; set aside. Mix the reserved 2 T of melted butter with the bread crumbs; set aside. Arrange 1/3 of the sliced potatoes in the prepared casserole; sprinkle with paprika. Layer half the hard-boiled egg slices on the potatoes. Spread with 1/3 sour cream mixture. Repeat and then arrange remaining potatoes as the top layer, sprinkle with paprika and cover with remaining sour cream mixture. Spread breadcrumbs over the top and bake until golden, about 20 minutes.